Discrimination against Rohingya women was raised as a key concern yesterday at a conference in Geneva, where the status of women in Burma is currently under review by the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
The review of Burma’s commitment to upholding the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) — which is described as an international bill of rights for women — is being held at the Palais des Nation in Geneva this week.
Local women’s organisations submitting reports for the review session include CEDAW Action Myanmar, the Gender Equality Network, the Women’s Organisation Network, and the Women’s League of Burma.
Four speakers on Burma were also invited to make a formal statement to the committee yesterday. One of those was Laura Haigh, from Amnesty International, speaking about discrimination against the Rohingya.
“The situation of Rohingya women and girls — in particular in northern Rakhine [Arakan] State — was already of serious concern during Myanmar’s last review in 2008,” Haigh told DVB on Tuesday.
“Unfortunately, instead of taking steps to improve the situation — like those recommended by the committee in 2008 — the Myanmar government has allowed for their situation to deteriorate.”
In its briefing to the committee on Monday, Amnesty International expressed particular concern about Burma’s discriminatory “race and religion” laws.
In a shadow report submitted on behalf of the Arakan Project and Women Peace Network-Arakan, Amnesty called for a review of the four laws — the Buddhist Women’s Special Marriage Law, the Population Control Healthcare Law, the Religious Conversion Law, and the Monogamy Law.
“In northern Rakhine State, women and girls still face severe restrictions on their movement and Rohingya couples still have to request special permission to marry,” said Haigh.
Chris Lewa, co-ordinator of the Arakan Project, which conducts research-based advocacy on the Rohingya minority, says the CEDAW review offers an important, early opportunity for Burma’s new National League for Democracy (NLD) administration.
“I do hope that the NLD-led government will clarify issues as well as current and future plans to address and resolve the situation of the Rohingya community, and in particular for Rohingya women, such as citizenship, child registration, freedom of movement, and access to services.”
Lewa adds that most importantly, the government should introduce “clear commitments to implement CEDAW recommendations and its obligations under the convention with regard to Rohingya women.”
Meanwhile, recent attacks on Muslim communities in Burma has raised concerns that things could get worse if action isn’t taken to bring perpetrators to justice. In the past two weeks, two mosques — one in Pegu Division and another in Kachin State — have been destroyed by mobs.
“The ongoing failures to investigate acts of anti-Muslim violence such as those we have witnessed in the last weeks have only served to create a climate of impunity for attacks on minorities, who are living at risk of further violence,” said Haigh.
Displaced Rohingya in camps are also “effectively segregated” from other communities in Arakan State, says Haigh, as the vast majority are still denied citizenship under the discriminatory 1982 Citizenship Act.
In their submission to CEDAW, access to emergency obstetric and other sexual and reproductive healthcare for Rohingya women was also raised as an urgent concern.
The other shadow reports submitted prior to this review focus on a variety of women’s issues, ranging from increasing women’s participation in peace talks to eliminating violence against women and improving access to justice.
After hearing from the NGOs from Burma, the UN committee will meet with a state delegate on 7 July to release their concluding observations.